In 100 Words: To Be Creative

Here’s a story from Sir Ken Robinson.

A little girl was sitting at the back of the classroom and drawing something. When teacher asked, “What are you drawing?” the girl replied, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl promptly replied, “They will in a minute.”

Kids don’t fear taking chances. They fail, fall but never stop exploring. They don’t worry about what others think of them – if they did, how dare they try giving shape to something they had never seen before?

How would they be so creative?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Great Quotes: Focus on Experience

In a competitive world obsessed with goals, people recommend that we should periodically review our performance. Performance appraisals in organizations are almost a necessary evil. The problem with focusing excessively on our ‘performance’ is that performance is always judged by others, by some external entity. When you constantly try to align yourself to external expectations, you dilute your own expression and voice.

I read the following quote in Peter Bergman’s recent Harvard Business Review post titled “Stop Focusing on Your Performance”. He says,

When you’re performing, your success is disturbingly short-lived. As soon as you’ve achieved one milestone or received a particular standing ovation, it’s no longer relevant. Your unending question is: what’s next?

When you’re experiencing though, it’s not about the end result, it’s about the moment. You’re not pursuing a feeling after, you’re having a feeling during. You can’t be manipulated by a fickle, outside measure because you’re motivated by a stable internal one.

Here is a related quote from my 2010 post titled “Enjoy the Process”:

Focusing on the moment, on task currently on our hands enables us to fully express ourselves. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to enjoy the work while we are doing it (being in the moment) – and expressing our skills fully. It is both gratifying and satisfying.

The joy is in the work itself. Focus on experience and performance will eventually take care of itself.

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Photo Credit: Stephan Comelli’s Flickr Photostream

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Enjoy the Process

Enjoy the Process – 2

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In 100 Words: Love Made Visible

Seeing someone turning a mundane activity into art is always very gratifying.

Meet Dr. Soda. He sells flavored soda on the roadside. He loves his work and calls himself a “Ph.D. in Soda”. For him, making soda is the medium to entertain people. He juggles soda bottles, makes a soda blindfold, speaks three languages, entertains kids, initiates conversations, smiles a lot and offers a distinct experience – all for just 10 bucks. Each soda is his opportunity to build a connection and deliver his art.

No work is small if you know how to enjoy it. Work is love made visible.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Great Quote: On System of Management by Deming

W. Edwards Deming, the pioneer and guru in quality revolution wrote the following paragraph when commenting on Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline” and it instantly struck the chord.

Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning.
The forces of destruction begin with toddlers — a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars — and on up through the university.  On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.

The birth of an organization happens with a technical idea that solves a problem. It starts with creativity, passion and inventive thinking. When people start organizations, their sole interest is to focus on excellence to deliver best results. Success breeds success and somewhere in the growth process, the focus shifts from creativity and passion to profits and numbers. At one point, this focus on numbers becomes a chronic obsession. Organization starts being driven by numbers alone and the human aspects of work (respect for people, intrinsic motivation, creativity, innovation etc.) are pushed into the margins. Physical infrastructure gains prominence over emotional infrastructure.

Deming said this in 1990’s and still sounds so true in current context when we look at how our schools, colleges and organizations are being driven.

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Usman Riaz and Attitude of Self-Directed Learning

One of the most critical skills for modern day students and professionals is ability to learn beyond the confines of a class room. We are fortunate that so much of profound learning is available for free – why do we not learn then?

There is a saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. One can have presence on all sorts of social media channels but that does not ensure learning. Because learning starts with an intent, an inner force to know more, dig deeper and understand. It expands as we internalize what we learn and then do something about it. Learning is not one-time-4-year-degree-course, but a lifelong commitment. Degree may be a launch pad, but ability to learn beyond the classroom, self-directed effort to learn and do are wings!

Consider the story of 21 years old Usman Riaz, a Pakistani music composer and an ace acoustic guitar player. Usman grew up learning the art of percussive guitar by watching videos on YouTube.

Usman recently played onstage at TEDGlobal 2012 followed by a brilliant solo performance from the master of percussive guitar, Preston Reed. These two guitarists then took on a very spur-of-the-moment improvisation to stamp their mastery.

Watch this demonstration of what wonders self-directed learning can do.

In an interview, Usman Riaz says (emphasis added),

I think my generation is one of the luckiest generations of people because up until the Internet became such an integral part of our lives (for me it was around 7 or 8 ) I had seen how the world functioned without the Internet, which just made me appreciate it even more and not take it for granted.

We have so much knowledge available to us at our fingertips. I try to use it to the best of my ability. I want to get better everyday. You can never stop learning.

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You may also like reading:

  1. Lifelong Learning: Lesson From A Cab Driver

  2. On Personal Mastery and Commitment to Learning

  3. Lifelong Learning – 20 Lessons

On Creativity: SRK and Seth Godin!

Two personalities from two diverse nations; One is an Indian mega-star Shahrukh Khan (SRK) and the other is a relentless instigator (and my hero) Seth Godin. Both live a creative life and express themselves fully through their work. Both have a significant impact on large number of people. Recently, both expressed their views on creativity.

At his recent talk as Chubb Fellow at Yale University, SRK shared his view on creativity and said,

Creativity is your gift to the world. It was never meant to be barter for anything, not even appreciation. You have to believe, that you create only because this is the biggest gift you have to give to your world. Maybe that’s why we even say God is a creator. It’s not about the cars or houses…it never was… those are peripherals. They never come about because of your talent or your creative outpourings… they come out of a business that people around you do. Those people are in the business of barter — not you. Yours is the business of giving and learning. Your work of art may never be complete in your lifetime. Your fulfillment will always lie in your creative expression not in its products.

In his usual provocative style, Seth Godin urges us not to expect applause. He says,

But when you expect applause, when you do your work in order (and because of) applause, you have sold yourself short. That’s because your work is depending on something out of your control. You have given away part of your art. If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work–the dependence on approval has corrupted it, turned it into a process where you are striving for ever more approval.

These insights led me to think and following lessons emerged:

  1. Don’t barter your originality and expression with external drivers, and rewards. When recognitions or rewards happen, cherish them. Treat them as by-products. But don’t let that get into your head, because once it does, logic rules. And when logic is a dominant force over emotion, creativity quickly eludes us.
  2. The pre-requisite of being creative is to first be yourself. If we are not true to our authentic selves, if we are not aware about our inherent interests, it is hard to be creative.
  3. Being true to your self means that you might need to break some rules, re-invent some and create a few. Non-conformance is good for creative diversity.

Also read: 5 Insights on Creativity from Osho

5 Insights on Creativity from Osho

Creativity is at the core of building quality in design. People rarely innovate when they simply follow instructions. This led me to think more about creativity – the act of doing something in an unconventional way, the act of creating something meaningful that changes you and hence the world. Traditionally (in an industrial world), only artists were meant to be creative – painters, dancers, poets and so on. In the knowledge world, every professional has an opportunity (and a need) to be creative – to see patterns that others don’t see, to create and initiate.

Around the same time I was thinking about creativity, I stumbled upon a great book titled “Creativity – Unleashing the Forces Within” written by 20th century spiritual teacher Osho. I read the book with great interest and gained some very enlightening insights. Here are a few:

Ego is the enemy of creativity. You are at your creative best when you do things because you find joy in doing it, because it has an intrinsic value to you. When you do things with a purpose of gaining recognition (and hence satisfy your ego), creativity is limited. Our need for external validation for our work stops us from being receptive, open and curious.

Creativity is a paradox. The more you try to be creative, the less creative you will be. Conscious effort to be creative comes in your way to be creative – that is because creativity flows. I wrote earlier that constraints help us become creative – but being in a state flow, being with the work, being in the work is the key to be creative. The book says, “It is not a question of what you do, it is the question of how you do it. And ultimately it is a question of whether you do it or you allow it to happen.”

Creativity means letting go of past. Too much reliance on our past stops you from being creative. Creative person is the one who lives in the moment, understands the context and looks at possibilities. As Osho rightly says in the book, “To bring intelligence into activity, you don’t need more information, you need more meditation. You need to become less mind and more heart.”

Creativity is an inner game. It stems from your love for the subject. It stems from your passion to practice, courage to try and learn by doing. Osho says, “If your act is your love affair then it becomes creative. Creativity is the quality you bring to the activity you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach – how you look at things. Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, then it is creative”

Creativity demands a lot of courage. Because doing something unconventionally requires you take risks, be prepared for failure, and learn from it. Osho observes that once you recognition and respect (external validation) keeps us from experimenting, because we are too afraid to fail.

Bottom line:

Creativity isn’t always about doing something that no one has done before – but in my view, it is always about executing your ideas with great love, great joy and a deep interest. If world recognizes it, you will be grateful. If not, you will still find intrinsic joy and happiness. Being creative is a selfish act!

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Related Posts at QAspire:

– The Creative (Process) – A Few Thoughts
Engaging in Alternative ‘Creative Pursuit’ to Be More Effective
Managers, Nurture Creativity. Don’t Kill It!
Creativity, Effectiveness and Constraints

On “Systems Thinking” and Improvement

A few years back, when I was struggling with some repetitive/difficult situations at work, one of my seniors (and a good friend) asked me, “Do you know the root cause of your problem?”. He went on to draw a diagram on his notebook, and connected the problem to the other parts of the organizational system. I realized that I was fighting the symptom, whereas the root cause was something completely different.

He told me, “As long as you fight individual fires and try to find single reason for all your problems without looking at the bigger picture, you will never see any improvement in your work.

Today, when I am responsible for improvements in a business environment, this lesson serves me well. My friend introduced me to the powerful concept of “systems thinking.” Ability to see relationships and patterns in different (and seemingly unrelated) elements of work is an essential skill for a modern day professional, because we are surrounded by systems. Right from human body to software we write and communities we belong to, everything is a system and improvement can only happen when we really understand the interconnectedness between different components within a system.

You can change the system only when you know the system – and knowing the system is a curious and creative pursuit. Improvement starts when you are “intentional” about being curious and creative.

I have seen doctors who try to “cure” isolated parts of the body without worrying about the root causes and I have seen leaders who try to “quick fix” every problem that comes their way. Systems thinking (or seeing the bigger picture) is not just a problem solving method, but an important tool for continual improvement.

In his book “The Fifth Discipline”, Peter Senge emphasizes that we need to cultivate “a discipline to see the wholes, a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots

He adds, “Reality is made up of circles, but we see straight lines."

Bottom line: Think systems, not events. Next time you solve a problem or implement a significant change: Solve the immediate problems, but do not forget to look for systemic connections and causes. Observe trends, see patterns, study the history of changes. Remain curious and be creative.

Join in the conversation: How do you see patterns and systems? How well do you connect the different parts of your work? What would you recommend?

The Creative (Process) – A Few Thoughts

I picked up a conversation with a few friends yesterday on the creative process, and that got me thinking about how inspiration or muse strikes. I have been a “process” guy professionally who also understands/respects the importance of creativity, the sort of creativity that changes the world for better. 

Our schools teach us “formulas” and we become obsessed with them thereafter. We look for sure fire ways of doing things and somewhere in this quest for certainty, our creativity is lost.

When we discussed further, our conversation revealed that creativity starts with an attitude to see things that others are not able to see, to see the new, to feel the difference before it happens, to follow our intuition, to decide that something is important and then to ‘do’ something about it. Whatever happens after the intuition/inspiration/muse/new (or whatever you call it) strikes the brain (and our mind) can be a process. But there is no formula I know, to get these ideas, to see the gaps, to connect discrete things and generate a new meaning. Creativity is more innate/personal because we bring ourselves, our values, our intuition and our DNA into the play.

In the same context, I stumbled upon an old article on Adweek which nails it:

The most celebrated acts of creativity in the world are the result of individuals deciding that something just feels right. Picasso did not need a viability study to decide where to apply his brush. And yet his highly unscientific pursuits continue to touch people in ways most ad campaigns never will. Tolstoy did not pass his concepts by focus groups for input. And yet his books and ideas endure.

Process is extrinsic. It augments the creative process and helps in better execution. It allows us to elevate our performance, visualize gaps and improve constantly. The processes employed by creative people are difficult to decode, but they surely exist. We don’t see a process there because we are untrained in that context.

Increasing competition means that we have to be “operationally” better than others, where process comes in. But it also means that we have to be “creatively” better than others, take more risks, innovate and execute great ideas, which is where our intuition comes in.

It is only when creativity marries the process that organizations can achieve greatness and remarkability.

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Join in the conversation: What do you think? Is there a process to get more creative? Can we implement processes more creatively? How does inspiration strike you? Let us know.

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Related Post: Creativity, Effectiveness and Constraints

Managers, Nurture Creativity. Don’t Kill It!

Bob, the project manager, was busy communicating with client via MSN Messenger, his eyes focused on the computer screen and fingers fiercely hitting the keyboard in a fine synchrony with his brain.

Jay, the team member, approach Bob with a suggestion – “Sir, for this particular requirement of the project, I have a suggestion that can save us a few lines of code, time and may also improve the performance”, there was a spark on Jay’s face as he put forward the suggestion.

Bob was half-attentive with his eye-balls still skimming through the lines of chat with client on MSN.

“See, we are already running short of time. So, I am sorry. Please do as we discussed this morning and keep your creativity for a later date. We surely need it, but not now!”, Bob said in a deep and authoritative tone.

Jay was taken aback with absolute lack of empathy and understanding demonstrated by his boss. Had Bob accepted Jay’s suggestion, it would have actually saved some time and effort. But Bob was simply not receptive.

This is a sad, but often a real story in many organizations. Managers kill creativity instead of nurturing it.

Managers and leaders ought to nurture creativity if they want to get best out of people. How does one do that?

  • Listen and Pay Attention– Bob’s biggest mistake was not to listen. He partially attended Jay’s suggestion and missed the details. Had he been attentive, he would have been in a better position to appreciate it. Without attention, you cannot go far in your thoughts or relationships.
  • Challenge – People need problems to ‘solve’. They don’t always need solutions which they just need to ‘implement’. If you always ask people to implement your ideas, you are killing their creativity.
  • Give Targets and Measure– Throw reasonable constraints at your team. Give a problem but also give a reasonable deadline. Constraints can fire up creativity. Measurement can track progress of improvement.
  • Share Larger Perspective – When you give problem statement to your people, also tell them how this problem (and its respective solution) fits the larger picture.
  • Respect – people who are respected will walk “extra-mile”. Respect is the soil on which seeds of creativity are sown.
  • Clarify Expectations – People who know what is expected out of them will do much better than the one’s who don’t.
  • Play by their strengths – Give them assignments where they can best use their inherent abilities and strengths.

With Bob’s one mistake, do you think Jay will ever choose to be creative in Bob’s assignments? What do you think Bob should have done differently to fire up creativity in his team member?

Creativity, Effectiveness and Constraints

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In my experience, constraints can boost creativity. I get more creative when I operate out of constraints. E.g. “Get X done in Y months else penalty of Z% per week” or “Get this huge proposal out by/before 5:00 PM tomorrow to remain eligible“. Constraints pushes us to be creative, to find easier or more effective ways of doing things and getting more done with limited resources available.

Recently I was in meeting with the Product Director and Product Manager of an organization. At the end of a technical discussion, the Director asked me to describe our services in 30 seconds. Before I started speaking he said, “Your time starts now!”.

Knowing that I only had 30 seconds to speak (constraint), I was able to elevate my thinking to a level where I described the very core of the organization. I was surprised to know how my thinking changed in light of constraints. I was able to do a different level of abstraction. Probably if I had 30 minutes to describe the same, I would have spoken a lot, but with little substance and much less effectiveness.

As a leader, it helps to create reasonble constraints for team members – to fire their creativity and effectiveness. Our brain has tendency to tag items that have constraints and pay special attention to them. In absence of such reasonble constraints, we tend to procrastinate and get into an easy mindset where little gets accomplished.

This is also a reason why I love Twitter. Whatever you want to express, you only have 140 characters. This constraint helps me to do concentrated thinking, extract the core and put the best possible representation of thought in less than 140 characters.

Probably this is also why people get more creative during recession. Recession or difficult career situation throws a set of constraints and organizations/individuals have to get things done within these constraints.

Another idea is to have a set of self-imposed constraints. I know a sales manager who imposed a constraint that he would respond to the incoming leads within 45 minutes. If he is not able to respond back in 45 minutes, he would consider it as a personal failure. This rule helped him become extremely responsive to prospects.

Do you think constraints are good? Does it help you get more creative? Do you have self-imposed constraints (rules)  for managing your work/time? I would love to hear your side of the story.

P.S: Just found a fantastic Business Week article on creativity and constraints. It adds another perspective – “While we need them (constraints) to spur passion and insight, we also need a sense of hopefulness to keep us engaged and unwavering in our search for the right idea. Innovation is born from the interaction between constraint and vision.”